To make the federal election campaign interesting, you just have to give the leaders a 140-character limit.
The microblogging service Twitter brought out the fighting spirit in the party leaders on Wednesday as they used the medium to engage in their first spirited debate, on the topic of the upcoming leaders debate.
Green Party Elizabeth May started the digital fracas on Tuesday when she announced on Twitter that "I will not be allowed to participate in the debates. In shock at this moment. I will be in those debates."
Securing a spot in the leaders' debates has never been a sure thing for the politician, as the Green Party does not hold a single federal riding. But thanks to the power of social media, Ms. May could still end up behind a podium.
In one of the most widely repeated tweets of the day, comedian Rick Mercer came out for Team May, posting: "Let Elizabeth May in the debate. She's the vinegar that brightens up the vegetables."
Ms. May segued the attention into an afternoon news conference, where she compared her Twitter war to the recent Egyptian evolution.
"The Tweets and the Facebooks brought about a revolution in Cairo. And the Tweets and the Facebooks can cause a revolution in Canada that at least allows a modern democracy for a political party that runs candidates in every single riding, that achieved nearly 1 million votes," she said.
Meanwhile, Conservative leader Stephen Harper and his Liberal rival publicly traded challenges for a one-on-one TV debate.
After the Tory chief raised the idea of going mano-a-mano during a campaign stop, Mr. Ignatieff tweeted his acceptance: "anytime, anyplace."
And Mr. Harper wasn't finished.
En route to a Montreal-area campaign stop, the Conservative Leader fished out an iPad and, using Twitter, questioned Mr. Ignatieff's commitment to such a debate format.
Any arrangement ultimately would have to be blessed by participating TV networks.
"Curiously, my team proposed 1:1 to TV consortium today; however, your team did not speak up," Mr. Harper tweeted.
As if to emphasize that the social media may already be outdoing the television debates for drama, then it was time for NDP Leader Jack Layton to chime in: "I remember the '08 debates @pmharper. Don't blame you for not wanting to face me again."
Anatomy of a tweet:
At 2:44 p.m. eastern time, Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff, or whichever fresh-faced campaign intern writes his Twitter posts, responded to Conservative Leader Stephen Harper's campaign-stop challenge to a one-on-one debate with "@pmharper A one-on-one debate? Any time. Any place."
According to TweetReach, a San Francisco-based Web service that helps businesses measure the impact of social-media conversations, after only two hours the line had been featured in 546 follow-up tweets by other users by 5 p.m., including, intriguingly, one direct reply. The site's analysis of the 50 most recent of those retweets found they were seen by 27,837 people.
The initial message was met with the equivalent of schoolyard jeers and at least one "Oh snap." Some suggested that the leaders debate take place entirely on Twitter. But as the tweet kept circulating, many lost patience with what they saw as the juvenile and off-topic tone of the debate-debate. "At what point did Canadian politics turn into fight club?" asked one.
Kady O'Malley of the CBC retweeted the response to her 9,000+ followers. But not all the individuals participating in the game of Internet hot potato were employed by the media. A University of Waterloo student named Matthew Elmer, a Calgary woman determined to lose 38 pounds by June 15, and a guy named Mike Waterhouse from Medicine Hat, Alta., all passed Mr. Ignatieff's fighting words along to their Twitter friends. And for your information, MedHatMike has 111 followers. Ridings have been lost by fewer votes.